Following is a question by the Hon Michael Tien and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (March 20):
Many members of the public have complained to me about water seepage on the walls or ceilings of their residential units. There is one complainant whose unit has been plagued by the water seepage problem since 2003, and the problem has remained unresolved even though he has complained to various government departments and bodies, including the Water Supplies Department (WSD), the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), the Buildings Department (BD), the Office of The Ombudsman and the dedicated Joint Office (JO) set up by BD and FEHD to handle complaints about water seepage in buildings. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the total number of complaints and enquiries received by JO since its establishment in 2006 and the number of cases which have not yet been processed, with a breakdown by District Council district and type of buildings (residential, industrial and commercial buildings); the longest waiting time for processing and the reasons for those cases having to wait for so long; the average processing time per case; whether the authorities will review the work efficiency of JO with a view to shortening the average waiting time by a certain percentage within a particular period of time and formulate the relevant performance pledges; if they will not, of the reasons for that;
(b) among the cases processed by JO, of the number of those classified as cases in which "the source of water seepage/leakage cannot be identified"; of the operational guidelines based on which the inspecting personnel made such classification; whether the relevant complainants may request for a review of the cases which were classified by JO as those in which "the source of water seepage/leakage cannot be identified" and the investigation into which was terminated; whether the Government has any specific ways to further assist such members of the public in resolving their problems; if it has not, of the reasons for that;
(c) among the complaints received by JO, of the number of those involving seepage/leakage of fresh water mains; why the authorities have not accepted the recommendation of including WSD in JO, made in paragraph 42 of the investigation report published by the Office of The Ombudsman in 2008 on handling of water seepage complaints by the aforesaid three government departments;
(d) given that the authorities conducted an interim review of the operation mode of JO only in 2008, whether they will conduct thorough examinations and reviews of the operation and management of JO within 2013; if they will not, of the reasons for that;
(e) of the existing staffing structure of JO; whether the authorities will set up a dedicated department to head JO officially, establish its power and provide clear lines of command regarding staff deployment and office management to prevent the occurrence of a loose cooperative relationship between the two departments; if they will not, of the reasons for that; and
(f) whether the authorities will review and examine the methods and equipment currently used by JO for testing water seepage as well as consider introducing other testing methods (e.g. microwave moisture and acoustics tests), so as to enhance the testing efficiency?
As property owners are responsible for maintaining and managing their buildings, they also have responsibility for resolving any water seepage problems. Hence, if water seepage is found inside a private property, the owner should first investigate the cause and, as appropriate, co-ordinate with the occupants and other owners concerned for repairs.
Where the water seepage problem poses a public health nuisance, a risk to the structural safety of the building or water wastage, the Government would step in and take action in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132), Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) or Waterworks Ordinance (Cap 102). The Joint Office (JO) was set up with staff of the Buildings Department (BD) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) to tackle such offences through a "one-stop shop" approach.
My reply to the six-part question is as follows:
(a) Since its establishment in 2006 until December 31, 2012, the JO had received 150 354 reports on water seepage with 24 133 cases still being processed. The remainder over 120 000 cases were mainly cases which were concluded, and cases which did not involve water seepage and hence were non-actionable. The numbers of reports on water seepage received and cases being processed by the JO since its establishment in 2006 until end 2012, broken down by the 18 District Council (DC) districts in Hong Kong, are tabulated below. The JO does not keep separate statistics for domestic and non-domestic premises or statistics for enquiries about water seepage.
Number of reports
on water seepage Number of cases
DC Districts received being processed
------------ ----------------- ----------------
Western 7 078 1 294
Wan Chai 6 281 995
Eastern 19 304 2 213
Southern 6 000 1 443
Islands 795 225
Yau Tsim Mong 15 125 2 542
Sham Shui Po 11 317 396
Kowloon City 17 594 1 262
Wong Tai Sin 5 294 2 462
Kwun Tong 10 804 1 514
Tsuen Wan 7 171 1 319
Kwai Tsing 8 052 2 810
Tuen Mun 10 163 802
Yuen Long 3 517 428
North 3 450 363
Tai Po 4 108 505
Sha Tin 10 346 3 093
Sai Kung 3 955 467
Total 150 354 24 133
The time required for processing a water seepage case largely depends on the complexity of the case and the extent of co-operation from the parties concerned, in particular the owners and occupants involved. Since the circumstances of individual cases vary, the procedures and time taken for investigation may also differ widely. In relatively straight-forward cases, where the source of water seepage could be identified by the JO staff during initial site inspection, the case can normally be concluded within a short period of the inspection. These cases may be completed as quickly as within four weeks. For more complicated cases and cases involving other occupants, the JO could, with co-operation from all parties, generally be able to complete the investigations in about 130 days (90 working days).
For more complicated cases which may, for instance, involve multiple sources or intermittent water seepage/leakage, JO staff will have to conduct different or repeated tests or ongoing investigations and monitoring in order to ascertain the cause. As these tests take time and require full co-operation from the owners/occupants concerned, from experience such cases would on average take about 170 days (120 working days). Where vacant units or uncooperative owners/occupants are involved, the JO would have to apply to the court for warrants of entry in order to carry out investigations. These cases would take even more time. The JO does not keep statistics on the time taken for investigation of individual cases.
Since its establishment, the JO has from time to time reviewed its modus operandi and strengthened its manpower with a view to enhancing the efficiency and quality of the service. Having regard to the performance after strengthening of manpower, the JO will assess its performance against the milestones and carefully examine the feasibility of developing the same into practicable performance pledges.
(b) As at December 31, 2012, other than those non-actionable cases which did not involve water seepage, the JO, after the completion of investigation and testing, successfully identified the source of water seepage/leakage in 27 405 cases and 9 151 cases were categorised as "the source of water seepage/leakage cannot not be identified" and the investigation for which was terminated. For another 27 234 cases, seepage ceased during the investigation.
The JO conducts different tests to investigate the cause and origin of water seepage. However, because there are many different reasons causing water seepage in buildings, there may still be cases where the cause or source of water seepage cannot be established despite extensive tests conducted, especially where the seepage is not obvious or only intermittent. In the absence of sufficient evidence which proves that the seepage constitutes a contravention of the law, the departments concerned cannot take further enforcement or follow-up action in the case. Nonetheless, the JO will keep the details of the investigation for future reference. In case the informant reports any changes in the seepage condition, such as a change in the extent or recurrence of seepage, the informant may request the JO for a review of the case.
(c) In investigating seepage cases, the JO will refer suspected cases of water wastage to the Water Supplies Department (WSD) for follow-up. During the six odd years since its establishment in 2006 until December 31, 2012, the JO had referred 1 312 suspected cases of water wastage to the WSD for follow-up. As these cases only amounted to a very small proportion of the cases handled by the JO, the Administration has no plan to include the WSD into the JO at this stage. Nevertheless, as a more efficient and cost-effective approach, the WSD has designated a dedicated senior engineer to be responsible for liaison and handling of seepage cases referred by the JO as well as discussion with the JO on the relevant policies.
(d) In 2008, The Ombudsman released an investigation report on the handling of water seepage complaints by the JO and made a series of recommendations. The Administration accepted The Ombudsman's recommendations and has accordingly implemented a number of improvement measures progressively with a view to enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of handling water seepage cases. The improvement measures include enhanced monitoring of the consultants' work, formulating milestones for enhanced progress monitoring of cases, and drawing up various operational guidelines for reference of staff. Moreover, the Administration is conducting a review on the organisation and modus operandi of the JO with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of handling seepage problems in buildings.
(e) At present, the FEHD has deployed 219 staff to the JO, including 15 senior health inspectors, 98 health inspectors and 106 investigators, whereas the BD has posted 64 professional and technical staff to the JO, including two senior professional officers, 10 professional officers, 50 building safety officers, one survey officer and one technical officer. In 2012, the Administration appointed 13 consultants to assist in conducting professional investigation on water seepage cases.
As mentioned above, the Administration is now conducting a review on the organisation, modus operandi and staffing of the JO with a view to enhancing the effectiveness of handling seepage problems in buildings. The FEHD and BD management staff deployed in various JO districts will arrange regular meetings to discuss the cases being processed and strengthen mutual co-ordination and co-operation.
(f) At present, there are a number of testing methods available at the market for identifying seepage, such as infra-red test and microwave moisture test, which can detect the variation in the moisture content of the seepage surface layers. Professionals may infer the situation or source of water seepage based on the results of such tests and their professional judgments.
These are indirect testing methods which may be subject to bias because of site circumstances, such as different materials of and impurities in floor slabs. Moreover, the accuracy of these apparatus may also vary with site circumstances, such that other tests or data are required to effectively confirm the sources of water seepage.
The moisture metre and colour water test adopted by the JO are widely used and effective means for ascertaining the source of seepage. The moisture metre is user-friendly and can provide accurate and direct measurement of moisture content for reference. As regards the collection of evidence for enforcement, colour water test is the most direct way for proving the source of water seepage.
To enhance the effectiveness of the JO's investigation of the source of seepage, the JO, with the assistance of the Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute, is working to explore more effective methods for seepage investigations.
Ends/Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Issued at HKT 14:31